Seventeen

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Lost among all the commotion generated by a 14-year-old kid named Michelle Wie is another of the teen-age set who may not come as readily to mind. Aree Song is quiet, shes a Thai-Korean who has lived in Florida for the past seven years ' and at only 17, shes has demonstrated a capability for golf far beyond her years.
 
Song is so young that she had to get special permission from commissioner Ty Votaw to attend the LPGAs qualifying tournament last year. She easily got her card and set about the rigors of tournament play this season as a rookie. Had not Wie come along, Song would be the one who has gotten the rave reviews for her play as a teen-ager. As it is, the youngster has already finished in a tie for fifth in her first tournament and one stroke away from a playoff in a major a couple of weeks ago ' and she looks surprisingly similar to a young Nancy Lopez. She finished in a tie for 20th last weekend in The Takefuji Classic.
 
Song was formerly known as Wonglueket - her mothers name - before changing last year to Song - her fathers name, which is much easier to pronounce. She has a twin sister, Naree, who also turned pro recently and is already on the Futures Tour. But Aree did the Michelle thing long before the world had heard of Wie. Four years ago she played in an LPGA major ' the Kraft Nabisco ' at the age of 13, finishing tie for 10th while playing in the final group.
 
There is no way, you might imagine, that a 17-year-old has anything in common with the women who play the LPGA. But you would be wrong.
 
You would be surprised, I get along with all the ladies, Aree said. They have been really nice and it has been great. I played in 15 events as an amateur, so I know everyone out here pretty well.

Her play at the Kraft Nabisco will be discussed for a long time. Song was on the green on No. 18 needing to hole a 30-footer to have a chance to beat Grace Park. Astoundingly, she made the putt for eagle! Unfortunately for Aree, Park, playing in the same group, coolly sank a 6-foot putt for birdie and the win.
 
Aree - she's got a tremendous amount of talent, said Park. She's already had a successful career, and she just has much more to come.
 
Since she was a child ' and some people would say she still is ' she planned on being a professional golfer. Aree was an excellent student ' she graduated early ' and actually carried a 4.0 average in her studies at the David Leadbetter Junior Academy in Bradenton. After originally announcing she was taking a scholarship to the University of Florida, she changed her mind after a sparkling summer and petitioned Votaw to turn pro. And she couldnt be happier.
 
I did it so I could retire early, she joked. Aree has gotten much more comfortable with the media, and thats a good thing because she has repeatedly been asked to come into the interview room this year.
 
I think it's fun, she said of the media inquisition, as well as being in the spotlight on the course. I enjoy playing in front of people, just because I know it's a good sign that I'm doing well and people are noticing what I'm doing. No, I think everything else is a bonus, really.
 
She knows there are certain things she has given up by turning pro. There will be no college life. There will be no late-night pizza parties, no adjustment to the career life while she remains in limbo from age 18 to 22, no sororities or clubs.
 
But, she says, this is what she always wanted, from the time she first picked up a golf club.

There are always sacrifices, Aree said, and when you chose to be a professional golfer, it going to be different than when you choose to play in college.
 
But I wouldnt trade it for anything in the world. This is my dream.

Her dream began before she can remember, almost to the day that she first went to the two-story driving range with her sister, brother and father in Thailand. She and Naree got a bucket of balls and sat up next to her brother, Chan, who now plays at Georgia Tech.
 
He said, What are you doing. Aree remembers. We hit it so bad and hit it all over the place. So he told us to go up the next level and hit because he didnt want to hit next to us. So, we tried to hit him a couple of times.
 
She is officially a rookie, but Aree and sister Naree have been around the tournament seen a long time. From the Open when she was 13, to numerous professional along the way as an amateur, to finally turning professional herself, Aree doesnt feel like a rookie.
 
I've played in I want to say around maybe 17 or 18 events. So, you know, that almost accounts to one season, she said.
 
So I'm pretty comfortable out here now, getting to know a lot of the players, the staff. I mean, the comfort level has definitely grown.
 
Hall of Famer Donna Caponi, now a Golf Channel analyst, marvels at what the youngster has already accomplished. We talked about her being rookie of the year, said Caponi. But her idea is, she wants to win golf tournaments.

Grace Park, who is all of 25 now, shakes her head when she contemplates the life that Aree has chosen. Shes obviously having a great start to her professional career, says Park. All I can say is, she must be tougher and wiser than I was. I was 20, 21 when I came out.

But if there is any different life than the one shes chosen, Aree doesnt see how it could possibly be any better. Shes playing golf, and now theres actually a reason to play tournaments.
 
It's just nice to know that you can actually get paid, she laughed.
 
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